If there's a blockbuster in this season's bumper crop of gift cookbooks (and ones you'll want to keep for yourself), it's Amanda Hesser's prodigious collection of the best of 150 years of recipes in The Essential New York Times Cookbook. It's a reminder that food fads may come and go, but that crowd-pleasing favorites (a beautiful plum torte!) live forever.
Speaking of evergreens, who wouldn't want a peek at Laurie David's (yes, she's the former wife of comedian Larry David) heartfelt advice about the importance of family dinners - for single-parent families, too. Or check out the latest primer on cooking with the seasons. Or sit for a spell at the French table of Dorie Greenspan, a trusted old hand.
To finish, as restaurant critics are wont to say, what could be better than the wise counsel of the masterful Michel Richard (Sweet Magic), or Bill Yosses and Melissa Clark, who offer up The Perfect Finish.
- Rick Nichols
"The Essential New York Times Cookbook: Classic Recipes for a New Century" by Amanda Hesser (W.W. Norton & Co., $40). Thirty years ago, I started compiling my own New York Times cookbook, devotedly clipping the weekly recipe offerings of Pierre Franey, taping them in a steno pad that I use to this day. I should have waited, and let Amanda Hesser, the ex-Times food writer and author, do the job for me. Which she has with enormous energy and, best of all, clarity, in this massive (932 pages) collection of the best of the newspaper's century-and-a-half-deep archive - Marian Burros' Creamy Curried Sweet Potato Soup (and her Purple Plum Torte, included by popular demand); Jean-Georges Vongerichten's crab salad on cumin crisps (which, Hesser reports, "hasn't aged a bit from 1997"); "The Minimalist" Mark Bittman's easygoing gravlax; and about 1,397 more stews and cocktails and springerle recipes, including, yes, some Frenchified Franey classics. Read it as cultural history, or a look at the evolution of food writing. But by all means cook from it. Its layout and logic are way more efficient than sorting through a stained and aging steno pad.
"Salted: A Manifesto on the World's Most Essential Mineral, With Recipes" by Mark Bitterman (Ten Speed Press, $35). It has been said that young chefs start out timidly under-salting, and end up oversalting, striving their whole careers to achieve the perfect balance. This handsomely illustrated volume has plenty to say about culinary salting. But it's the salt itself that's the star - artisanal salt, that is (fleur de sel, evaporated from the sea; South African pearl; sel gris; Maine coast salt; Shinkai deep-sea salt). "Industrial salt" is the enemy here, stripped of its regional accents, natural moisture, and history. Author Mark Bitterman calls himself the "selmelier" at his wife Jennifer's gourmet shop in Portland, Ore. And in that role he has a fair bit of advice on salt cookery - how to make flambeed bananas come alive with hardwood-smoked salt; salt-crusting rib steak; and how to give grill-fired bacon and eggs a novel twist by cooking them on a block of Himalayan pink salt, the salt providing the salty sheen on the bottom, not on the top.
- R. N.
"Harvest to Heat: Cooking With America's Best Chefs, Farmers, and Artisans" by Darryl Estrine and Kelly Kochendorfer (Taunton Press, $40). Don't bother reading the windup in this lusciously photographed book. It's the usual cliches - farming with "passion," grass-fed beef as a national treasure, the importance (yep!) of "good soil." Go straight to the pitch, the recipes and collaborations of top chefs and unsung goat-cheese farmers and celebrity heirloom-tomato growers (Tim Stark in Hamburg, Pa.) and purveyors of coveted arugula. Estrine's photos make you want to roll around on the cutting board with lemon-thyme roasted chicken from Four Story Hill Farm in Honesdale, Pa., and stick a fork in the creamy burrata with speck, peas, and mint (supplied by Di Stefano Cheese, and created by Osteria Mozza in Los Angeles).
These ingredient-centered recipes make celebrated chefs look good. But it's an homage, as well, to the working stiffs (the "artisans") offstage, a bookend of sorts to Amanda Hesser's celebration of America's cooks, chefs, and dedicated food writers.
"The Family Dinner," by Laurie David (Grand Central Publishing, $30). Nearly a decade ago, researchers from Columbia University set about studying the effects of eating together as a family, and time has only strengthened their conclusions: Family dinners are important in preventing substance abuse, smoking, and suicide among teenagers, while also promoting academic achievement, social skills, and self-confidence.
Now environmental activist Laurie David (Larry David's ex; she produced An Inconvenient Truth) demonstrates that a meal is more than the sum of its parts. This stunningly comprehensive book contains 75 recipes such as Vietnamese Soup in a Teapot; Lemon Herb Scallopini made with gardein, a chicken substitute available in most supermarkets; and Apple Cider Chicken, made with real chicken.
The book is also rich in dinner conversation starters, table games, tips on teaching values, and advice for divorced and single parents who want to do dinner well.
As Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis once famously said, "If you bungle raising your children, I don't think whatever else you do well matters very much."
- Dianna Marder
"Cooking Through the Seasons" (Oxmoor House, $30). Seems like there's a cookbook for just about every disease now. This year alone we've seen new recipe collections for people living with acid reflux, irritable bowel syndrome, diabetes, and high cholesterol. And while celiac sufferers certainly do need to stick with gluten-free recipes, most of us don't need a stack of medically based cookbooks. Eating in season, being aware of the calories, fats, etc., in recipes, and practicing portion control are probably the three top steps to healthy eating.
Cooking Through the Seasons, from the editors of Cooking Light magazine, wins on all those counts with 250 recipes inspired by seasonally available fruits and vegetables, with nutrition data for each.
Among the recipes: Farfalle With Creamy Mushroom Sauce; Honey and Herb-Roasted Root Vegetables; Caramelized Quinces.
These highly do-able dishes may be too simplistic for some, but will be perfect for those who need an accurate calorie, salt, sugar, and protein count without the preaching.
- D. M.
"The SoNo Baking Company Cookbook: The Best Sweet and Savory Recipes for Every Occasion" by John Barricelli (Potter Books, $35). John Barricelli's new book promises foolproof sweet and savory recipes for everything from breads to cupcakes to special-occasion showstoppers, and it delivers.
The author includes excellent information for both the beginner and the seasoned baker, with a chapter on filling the baker's pantry that includes vital storage guidelines for your baked goods. The book also has glossaries for ingredients and equipment that I found very helpful.
Each recipe starts with a short anecdote about its history or some tips on preparation. For instance, Barricelli lets us know why he adds vegetable oil to the chocolate glaze in a cookie recipe (the Sarah Bernhardts): It prevents the unsightly grayish bloom and keeps the glaze a good consistency for dipping.
Feeling confident, I decided to try the Chocolate-Filled Almond Macaroons - two French macaroons sandwiching a layer of dark chocolate ganache. I had never made anything like it before, but there I was piping out dozens of quarter-sized cookies like a pro! I did have a ton of ganache left over, but somehow I don't think that will be a problem.
- Robin Currie
"Sweet Magic" by Michel Richard (Ecco, $27.50). I fell in love with Michel Richard's new book before I looked at a single recipe. The essays written by Richard and Peter Kaminsky are simply wonderful. Richard's are funny and insightful, sharing stories of his culinary path from France to the United States, even referring to himself (and I suppose his girth) as a "culinary St. Nicholas."
Richard mentions that no one's mother ever said, "If you don't finish your chocolate cake, there'll be no dessert for you." He speaks of dessert as a necessary luxury. He also uses, and loves, the microwave. I like his thinking.
But the point of Sweet Magic is the dessert recipes, and Richard does not disappoint. The Triple Chocolate Flourless Christmas Log goes on for four pages, including the introduction, and while this may seem daunting at first, this excellent teacher takes you through the four component parts step by step and makes it seem easy. And it was delicious.
Richard makes me think I could tackle the Chocolate Eclairs or the Belgian Glazed Brioche Tart next.
"The Perfect Finish" by Bill Yosses and Melissa Clark (W.W. Norton & Co., $35). This baking book contains some of the most thoughtfully written and explained recipes I have seen in recent years. An executive pastry chef, Yosses has divided the book into chapters titled "Come for Brunch," "I'll Bring Dessert," and "Holiday Desserts," to mention a few.
One of the most delicious breakfast breads I have ever eaten, let alone made, is the Chewy Brown Sugar Date Walnut Loaf. This dense, butterscotch-like concoction is almost a bread version of the British sticky toffee pudding and would make a delightful addition to a holiday brunch. You can pull it together in about 20 minutes, not including baking time, and it's good for days (if it isn't eaten up first!).
I really liked that the authors took the time to list, before the recipe, pan sizes and any special equipment needed, helping me to feel super-organized and ready to bake. Not only are the recipes clearly written, most with handsome color photographs, but this is a collection of dishes you'll want to make not just for special occasions, but every day.
"Sarabeth's Bakery: From My Hands to Yours" by Sarabeth Levine (Rizzoli, $40). Sarabeth Levine is finally letting us in on her baking secrets.
The more than 100 recipes from the famed Sarabeth's Bakery vary from the everyday (but still awesome) Chocolate Chubbie Cookie, to the more complex homemade Babka. The recipes seem to be gently handed over to the reader, as if Sarabeth is giving them just to you. And with tons of lovely photography, you could spend hours poring over this hefty volume, as I did.
In addition to the fabulous baked goods, the book has Sarabeth's recipes for her world-famous marmalades and jams. So if you don't want to give away the book, you could make, and give as gifts, the apricot-orange marmalade that helped launch Sarabeth's career.
This gorgeous book might be the ultimate gift for all the bakers on your list, including you.
"Heart of the Artichoke and Other Kitchen Journeys" by David Tanis (Artisan, $35). Who doesn't envy the life of David Tanis? He cooks at Alice Waters' legendary cafe Chez Panisse for six months a year and spends the other six in Paris cooking lovely meals for friends in his charming Paris apartment.
But Tanis hopes to evoke imitation, not envy, with his new cookbook. You too, can have a slice of this life, he encourages. At least the part where you cook great meals. He provides the simple, beautiful recipes that he insists need not be fancy. How about a big pile of peppery chicken wings, with a salad of romaine hearts with shaved parmigiano and lemon dressing, and a tray of molasses pecan squares?
Sounds good to me. But I'm still envious of the view of the Seine.
- Maureen Fitzgerald
"Street Food of India: The 50 Greatest Indian Snacks - Complete With Recipes" by Sephi Bergerson (I.B. Tauris, $28). Paging through this book is like a guided tour through the best food stands in India. You can almost smell the potato curries, taste the creamy rice pudding, and hear the sizzle of samosas frying in the pan.
The beautiful photography of the streets, the schoolchildren, the vendors and their carts' offerings is only part of the appeal. The recipes are the other draw. The spicy chickpeas and Masala Chai will become part of my lexicon.
"Around My French Table" by Dorie Greenspan (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $40). Dorie Greenspan's sunny personality resonates from the pages and the recipes of this tome, a compilation of her favorite French recipes gathered from neighbors, friends, and others she's met in 30 years of visiting and living part-time in France.
Each of the 300 recipes is accompanied by the story of its origin, and the book serves as a who's who of French cooking over the last generation, as it seems Greenspan has met them all, from Pierre Herme to the humblest bistro owner. She has taken their recipes and made them her own and hopes that you will make them yours, too.
"I would love for this book to give people a new look at French food," she said in an interview. "It's not fussy, it's not formal, it's not difficult. . . . It's just delicious, homey food for every day, from a land that has treasured food."
Peppery Chicken Wings
Makes about 8 to 10 appetizer servings
5 pounds chicken wings, wing tips removed
Salt and pepper
2 teaspoons ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon cayenne
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
4 garlic cloves, smashed to a paste with a little salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
1. Lay the chicken wings out on a baking sheet and season well with salt and pepper. Transfer the wings to a big mixing bowl, add all the other ingredients, and give the wings a massage. Refrigerate for at least an hour, or as long as overnight.
2. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Put the wings in a roasting pan or baking sheet in one layer. Roast, uncovered, until nicely browned and crisp, about 1 hour. You can eat them hot, at room temperature, or cold.
- From Heart of the Artichoke by David Tanis (Artisan, 2010)
Per serving (based on 10): 272 calories, 19 grams protein, 1 gram carbohydrates, trace sugar, 21 grams fat, 80 milligrams cholesterol, 193 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber.
Vietnamese Soup in a Teapot
Makes 6 servings
8 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 whole onion, peeled and cut in half
4 cloves garlic, smashed
2-inch chunk ginger, peeled
2 whole star anise
1 cinnamon stick
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed
1 package flat rice noodles soaked in hot water for 15 minutes and drained (or angel hair pasta cooked according to the package)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Bunch of fresh leafy herbs, washed (for example: mint, basil, Thai basil, cilantro)
1 cup fresh bean sprouts, rinsed and drained
2 tablespoons sliced scallions
2 medium carrots, peeled and grated
1 fresh red or green chile, sliced very thin
2 tablespoons Asian fish sauce, or to taste
Juice of 1/2 lime
2 thinly sliced shallots or 1 small red onion, sliced (optional)
Asian chili sauce, more fish sauce, hoisin sauce
1. In a large pot, bring the chicken broth, onion, garlic, ginger, star anise, cinnamon stick, and brown sugar to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the chicken and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes or until it is done. Skim the scum from the surface of the soup. Take out the chicken and shred or cut it into bite-size pieces.
2. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil for the rice noodles. Cook them in the boiling water, stirring, for 45 seconds. Drain the noodles in a colander, and rinse under cold water. Toss with the vegetable oil and put in a serving bowl.
3. Arrange the herbs in a glass of water as if they were a flower arrangement, and put them on the dinner table.
4. Put the chicken and remaining garnishes (sprouts, scallions, carrots, chile) into individual serving bowls.
5. Bring the broth back to a simmer. Stir in the fish sauce and lime juice; add salt and pepper if needed. Strain the broth into a teapot. Keep the remaining broth hot on the stove.
6. To serve, give each person a bowl, a spoon, and chopsticks. Let everyone fill a bowl with the noodles, adding chicken, squeezing lime, tearing off bits of herbs, then passing the teapot to pour the hot broth.
7. Finally, adjust the flavors of your own soup to taste with the sauces and fresh chiles.
Per serving: 317 calories, 28 grams protein, 37 grams carbohydrates, 7 grams sugar, 6 grams fat, 44 milligrams cholesterol, 770 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber.EndText
Makes about 24 cookies
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
9 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate (no more than 62 percent cacao), finely chopped
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups superfine sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 cups (12 ounces) semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups (5 1/2 ounces) coarsely chopped pecans
1 1/4 cups (4 1/2 ounces) coarsely chopped walnuts
1. Position racks in the center and top third of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Line two half-sheet pans with parchment paper.
2. Bring 1 inch of water to a simmer in a medium saucepan over low heat. Put the butter in a wide heatproof bowl, and melt the butter over the hot water in the saucepan. Add the semisweet and unsweetened chocolate, stirring often until melted and the mixture is smooth. Remove the bowl from the heat and let stand, stirring occasionally, until cooled slightly but still warm, about 5 minutes.
3. Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together into a medium bowl. Whip the eggs in the bowl of a heavy-duty stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment on medium-high speed until the eggs are foamy and lightly thickened, about 30 seconds. Increase the speed to high and gradually add the sugar, then the vanilla. Whip until the eggs are very thick and pale yellow, about 3 minutes. Reduce the mixer speed to medium and beat in the tepid chocolate, making sure it is completely incorporated. Change to the paddle attachment and reduce the mixer speed to low. Gradually add the flour mixture. Remove the bowl from the mixer. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the chocolate chips, pecans, and walnuts, making sure the chunky ingredients are evenly distributed at the bottom of the bowl. (Do not turn the dough out onto the work surface, because the chocolate dough makes a mess. The dough will be somewhat soft.)
4. Using a 2-inch-diameter ice-cream scoop, portion the batter onto the prepared pans, placing the cookies about 11/2 inches apart. Bake the cookies immediately - if you wait, they won't be shiny after baking. Bake 17 to 20 minutes, switching the position of the pans from top to bottm and front to back about halfway through baking, until the cookies are set around the edges (if you lift a cookie from the pan, the edges should release easily, even if the center of the cookie seems underdone). Do not overbake. Cool completely on the baking pans. (The cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature, with the layers separated by parchment paper, for up to 3 days.)
Per cookie: 351 calories, 4 grams protein, 34 grams carbohydrates, 26 grams sugar, 23 grams fat, 38 milligrams cholesterol, 36 milligrams sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber.EndText
Makes 8 servings
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large onions, finely chopped
2 large cloves garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon hot curry powder
1 slice day-old white or brown bread
1 cup whole milk
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
Juice of 1 large lemon
3 tablespoons chopped bottled mango chutney
12 blanched whole almonds, chopped
1/2 cup raisins
4 strips lemon zest
2 pounds ground lamb or beef
Hot cooked rice for serving
Stewed apricots for serving (optional)
1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Place a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the oil. Add the onions and garlic and lightly brown, about 10 minutes. Add the curry powder and cook gently for about 2 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, soak the bread in the milk, then firmly squeeze dry, saving the milk, and transfer to a large bowl.
3. Add the onion mixture to the bread, plus all the remaining ingredients except 1 egg. Mix well.
4. Spoon the mixture into an 8-inch-square baking dish that has been rubbed with butter. Bake for 35 minutes.
5. Beat the remaining egg with the saved milk and pour over the top. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes longer, until the custard is set and the top a golden brown. Serve with rice and, if desired, stewed apricots.
Per serving (with rice): 466 calories, 29 grams protein, 42 grams carbohydrates, 13 grams sugar, 20 grams fat, 130 milligrams cholesterol, 437 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber.